"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.' " [John 11:25, 26]
There it is... the crux of Christianity. If Jesus is who He said He is, then the one who believes in Him (is changed by Him), will live (spiritually) even if that person dies (physically). And everyone who lives (spiritually) and is changed by the Lord Jesus will never die (experience spiritual separation from God in hell).
In I Thessalonians 4, Paul takes this truth and draws the implication that, because death has been defeated through the Lord Jesus' atoning death and resurrection, we as believers need not grieve as those who have no hope. Sorrow, yes... as without hope? No.
For though the experience of death itself may be grievous, and the emotional loss difficult, we are to be comforted that we will be with Him forever.
Our Lord gave His wonderful promise in John 14:2, 3 -- "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also."
I share a story I was sent recently:
A young woman diagnosed with a terminal illness had been given a short time to live. As she was "getting her things in order" she contacted her pastor, and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes.
She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what Scripture she would like read, and what outfit she had picked out to wear.
Everything was in order, and the pastor was preparing to leave, when suddenly the young woman remembered something very important to her!
"There's one more thing," she said excitedly.
"What's that?" the pastor asked.
"This is very important," the young woman continued. "I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand." The pastor stood looking at her, not knowing quite what to say.
"That surprises you, doesn't it?" she asked.
"Well, to be honest, I am puzzled by the request," said the pastor.
The young woman explained. "My grandmother once told me this story, and from that time on I have always tried to pass along its message to those I love, and those who are in need of encouragement. In all my years of attending socials and dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared away, someone would inevitably lean over and say, 'Keep your fork.' It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming... like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful and with substance!"
So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder 'What's with the fork?' Then I want you to tell them: 'Keep your fork.. the best is yet to come.'
The pastor's eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the young woman good-bye.
At the funeral people were walking by the young woman's casket and they saw the cloak she was wearing and the fork placed in her right hand... over and over the pastor heard the question: 'what's with the fork?' And over and over he smiled.
During his message he told the people of the conversation he had had with the young woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it meant to her. He told them how he could not stop thinking about the fork, and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either.
He was right. So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently that the best is yet to come.